Council chief executive ‘verbally assaulted on weekly basis’

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Tensions were at fever pitch in Larne’s council chamber this week, as the relationship between the chief and executive and some local councillors hit an all-time low.

A special meeting at Smiley Buildings last Monday resulted in drama as CEO Geraldine McGahey walked out of the council chamber, followed closely by senior officers.

And according to minutes of the meeting – which have been rejected by members – Mrs McGahey went on to claim that she was being “verbally assaulted” on a weekly basis”.

The Press and members of the public were excluded from part of the meeting, but the draft minutes show that the confidential discussion centred around staff matters.

The record reveals that Mrs McGahey presented a report to members detailing a package of measure aimed at tackling a number of staffing issues.

It was initially proposed by Cllr John Mathews (but not adopted) that the measures be approved, with a written report to be brought back on the potential for a redundancy scheme for staff at risk under the upcoming local government reform.

Mrs McGahey’s role is one of those deemed to be at risk.

But Cllr Martin Wilson said he felt the redundancy programme should be implemented along with the rest of the measures up for adoption that night.

The minutes state: “Councillor Wilson commented that it could be seen as being of benefit to the chief executive and her role if it was not implemented as a complete package.

“The chief executive stated that it had never occurred to her that this might be seen as protecting her own post. She felt this was another indication of the lack of trust and respect for her as an individual and as chief executive.”

It was at this point that Mrs McGahey left the meeting. Upon her return, she raised concerns about behaviour in the chamber.

The minutes state: “The lack of trust and respect demonstrated towards senior officers, especially to her, was becoming unbearable.”

The record adds: “As her post was included in the ‘at risk’ category the point had been made that she was acting in a self-motivated manner. Councillor Wilson said that was her interpretation and that what he had said was that he would prefer the entire report, in terms of all the measures, to be approved to enable her to progress these matters.

“An ‘a la carte’ approach could give rise to a perception that the measures to be approved were to the benefit of the chief executive’s position, which was not his view on the matter.”

Cllr Wilson proposed, and it was resolved, that the chief executive be authorised to progress the entire package of measures, with monthly progress reports to be submitted to the council.

However, councillors refused to ratify the minutes at Monday’s full council meeting, with Cllr Wilson saying they were “not a true and accurate reflection” of proceedings.

He asked that a fuller version be brought before council for adoption.

Cllr Mathews also took issue with a section of the minutes which stated: “He (Cllr Mathews) apologised if she (Mrs McGahey) had taken any slight at what he had said.”

At the full council meeting, the Alliance representative said he had not apologised, but had expressed his “regret” if the chief executive had taken slight at his comments.

Mrs McGahey said she would be happy to provide a verbatim minute for consideration at the next meeting.